Dreams, Nightmares and Hills: Trail Running from Banawa to Labangon

One morning, I woke up with high levels of endorphins. I woke up just at the right side of bed because for the longest time of having dreamless and sometimes, horrible and troubled nightmares, it was that morning I could remember the most vivid dream – a happy one.

In my dream, I received an e-mail from a friend complimenting me about my article. Then, I sent him a reply. The next e-mail, I received an audio mail. I clicked on the attached audio and there, I heard his soft and husky voice singing. It was one sweet song that even when I woke up, the unfamiliar note lingered in my head. I smiled with inspiration. I was happy.

The next day, still feeling the euphoria of that sweet dream, I hurriedly prepared myself for trail running. It has been a long time since this indulgence. Back in 2013, I registered for a 12K Colombia Trail Run then another 6K in Trail/Road Run in Compostela which landed me in 4th place, Women’s Division sometime in 2014. After that, I stopped joining any kind of races may it be on-road or off-road running. I disconnected myself to all sorts of outdoor sports and activities I used to enjoy – swimming, running, biking, rock climbing and hiking. I became a couch potato (thus earning me an excess of 10 kilos). I basically shut down. PERIOD.

Not for long that I realized that my body was aching for the sports. My mind was driving me to embrace them once again. But fear and insecurities and all combined negativity wrapped me. I was hesitant. Could I still make it after the horrible incident I suffered last 2015? That was my question.

My body wasn’t the same as before. The accident had me worried. Watching people do the things I used to do only feed my frustration. I shook my head. I couldn’t. I can’t. I can no longer be as fit as I used to be. Once I tried hiking with full load, my left ribs ached too much that I suffered almost a week on bed. My legs weren’t as sturdy as before plus the insecurities of wearing shorts baring my ugly 12-inch scar on my leg and another one on my thigh. It was that nightmare that momentarily halted my world. I was not the same person as I used to be.
Then the challenge arose.
“What are you going to do this weekend?” I sent a message to my friend, Apol.
“I am going training in Banawa,” she replied.
“Can I come with you?” I volunteered.
“Okay,” her usual reply.
At 7:30 in the morning, Apol and I met up at Jollibee A.S. Fortuna and gearing for the activity. As I already knew, it was going to be her training ground for her 50K Ultra-Marathon Trail Run in Cordillera this June. We started at 8:30 in a certain Banawa Subdivision and then reached Celestial Gardens for 30 minutes or less. We rested at the place. It looked familiar. So familiar that I exclaimed to my friend the lines, “you just knew how to desynthesize me.” She laughed while telling me that she knew nothing about what I was saying.
“I need to disassociate things in my past for me to move on,” I added.
“Jek, it is all your decision. Everything is in the mind,” she replied while we continued running.
Finally, we reached the foot of the hill. I looked at the inclination then reassessed myself on how long I could be on top. I also glanced at the city view before I drew in my long breath.
“Are you okay?” Apol asked me jokingly.
“This is a punisher, Pol. An uphill climb is always my biggest challenge.” I replied while catching my breath.
“Hahaha! I am feeling the same,” she replied somewhat lifting my worries.

The humidity and extreme heat of the sun was pulling me down. Sweaty, tired and dehydrated, (I felt like a newbie when I brought only a 500ml hydrant), we finally reached the top of the hill. We hid behind the big rock for a shade.
Barely 5 minutes, we started running downhill overbearing the tall cogon grasses along the way. It was fun. We looked like children enjoying the natural playground. We stopped by a mango tree (it served as her marker for the next trail). A certain man scraping off the branches’ barks asked us of where we were coming from. In unison, we told him we were from Lapu-Lapu. We were laughing when he told us that "we were ladies in pair exploring the wilderness". (Recalling the days when we were called “amazons” because we used to trail blaze.) We learned that we already reached the boundary of Labangon. We continued trailing downhill until we reached the water source. We rested for a few minutes (less than 10 minutes) while refilling our containers before we commenced deeper to the wilderness.
Next, we found ourselves trekking a dead river. So dead that not a single trickle of water was found. Following the river trail led us deeper to the forest. I could hear the humming of the birds, rustling of the winds and the sound of crisp, dried leaves when we were stepping on it. Then I imagined a scene from “The Walking Dead”. The eerie feeling of walking on the unknown. A zombie might suddenly appear and boom – apocalypse could happen next! (Silly!)
Apol was looking for the trail which could lead us to Buhisan Dam. She also instructed me to look for the trail (left side). All our senses were alive – listening to any crawling and hissing sounds (PKC where she kept on scaring me about), looking at the trail hidden by the enormous pile of dried leaves and a sign of civilization – engine sounds. We went on until we reached Buhisan Waterfalls. (Guess what, it was so dried up!) The effects of drought were totally evident. Even in forestry areas, one could see the drying up of rivers, and trees shedding off their leaves.

Since we couldn’t find the trail or Apol didn’t follow her first intuition when she saw what could have been a possible trail, we concluded that we were lost.
“It is difficult to climb up the falls,” she gave the idea first.
My eyes were directed to the waterfalls and I imagined possible holes and hand grips.
“We could do that,” pointing out the possibilities.
“Yeah, we can,” she agreed.
“But we need to go left, right?” I asked her.
“Is it okay with you if we go back and look for the trail,” she asked me.
“No problem,” I followed her trailing back.

We found what looked like a trail and went on.
What captivated us was an old Balete tree where its huge roots extended almost 3 meters away from its center. We stopped a few minutes typically admiring the tree. We climbed uphill again while we continued to look for the right trail. Ridge after ridge that we found ourselves deeper in the jungle. Harsh, thorny ferns and vines greeted us. More dried leaves, gigantic black ants and some crawling reptiles were the living species we encountered as we were already lost in the jungle.

We checked on our supplies. Apol asked me if I wanted to go back. I asked her back.
She wanted to proceed looking for the trail. I agreed with her. We were of the same wavelength. We listened to whatever signs of a road. We looked up the sky. It was a clearing. (It meant we were near at the top of the hill.) We looked down for a trace – footsteps, trails, water tubes, and river.
“Since when did you know how to read trails,” she asked me.
“I realized that I knew when I had my climb in Mt. Apo,” I replied.
“It was fun and scary because sometimes when I was left by the pack or I wasn’t together with the group of climbers, I read signs of possible passable trail and trust my intuition,” I explained to her.
“We grew up doing this and it has become natural,” she concluded.

My respect to Apol can't be describe with words. Her choice of words and her humble ways to guide newbies and her cool but cautious personality would never put her group in danger. Whenever I am with her, I am assured that our climb or trek will be worthwhile.
“Banana!” I shouted feeling relieved.
“Hahaha! Yeah, finally!” she agreed with me. Bananas are shrubs. It typically grows in the plain and/or areas where water is abundant and sun’s rays accessible. It means that we were closer to the top.

It gave us an idea that we were following the right trail. We were happy. After being lost for one and a half hour while conserving our water supplies and racing against time we were back on trail.
Ending the “lost in the jungle” scene, we proceeded to running downhill again and trekking uphill until we reached Quiot Road at exactly 1:30.
We went on walking and sometimes running the cemented road while eavesdropping from the locals passing by. (It was election fever and we were just too happy to know who their President was.)
Luckily, we managed to hitch a cab going to Labangon. We had a great trail run experience but the adventure did not end just yet. As we decided to head to Guadalupe for lunch (Apol is a vegetarian so we were really looking for a great resto to try on the greenies).

After lunch, we decided to walk our way to Ayala.
We were two discontented souls that by the moment we passed by Ayala we decided to continue walking to Panagdait, Mabolo for a Hi-way Mandaue ride. Our brain did not register it instead we carried on walking to Parkmall. Concluding our day, we rode the jeepney that could take us to Lapu-Lapu City. Unfortunately, it broke some distance away from Parkmall. We looked at each other then agreed that from Mandaue, we could walk and run up to the bridge until we reach our city.

Indeed, we hit a great challenge!
A 20-km trail running and walking within 8 hours – what a great sweat!

Benefits of Trail Running:
1. Trail running is a great outdoor sport. I prefer this off-road activity than the on-road running because I got to see sceneries and it isn’t too painful for the feet. Remember that running on the plain surface will concentrate your weight to just one area which are your ankles. However, when it to comes to trail running the center of gravity is changed from time to time depending on the terrain so your ankle wouldn’t receive all the pressure.
2. Your lungs’ expansion is maximized and filled with fresh air. When you think of healthy, think of the air that you are breathing. Trail running will give you all the boost for healthier lungs. Filling in capillaries with only fresh oxygen that your body needs.
3. While both on-the-road run and off-the-road run can clear your mind because you need to concentrate on your path, trail running gives you more time to meditate and reflect. The quiet and peaceful surrounding adding up the natural environment enhances one’s thinking and yeah, decision-making. It is both a mental and physical workout!
4. When you want to sweat then run! No further delays. No but’s and no if’s. Just trail run it! 
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About Marie Angelique Villamor

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